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White Sox Fri Aug 08 2014
Jose Abreu has the American League Rookie of the Year award wrapped up. Though some other first year AL guys are in the running, only New York's Masahiro Tanaka had a chance, and he'll miss half the season. Abreu has been fantastic all year, leading the league in home runs and RBIs. He's even getting some MVP buzz.
But by WAR, Adam Eaton has been just as valuable to the White Sox this year.
Both have 3.8 Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference, which lead all Sox position players (Chris Sale has a 4.7 WAR). While Abreu has a superior offensive WAR, with 4.2 to Eaton's 2.7, Abreu has actually cost the Sox on defense. The first baseman has a -1.0 defensive WAR, while Eaton has been worth a team-high 1.5 wins out in the field. Additionally, Eaton has added 2.5 Wins Above Average, which is more than Abreu's 2.3.
Having said all that, WAR isn't the perfect stat. Defining what constitutes a "win" or a "replacement player" isn't as finite or concrete as defining what, say, a home run or a strikeout is, statistically. The two main baseball stat sites, Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, have very different ways of computing WAR (on FanGraphs, Eaton's WAR is only 1.9). Calculating defense into WAR is problematic, because it's more of an estimation than an actual figure.
That doesn't mean that Eaton hasn't been great for the Sox in 2014. Like Abreu, Eaton missed some time this year (he went on the DL for a strained hamstring) but since his return on May 18, he's had a robust on-base percentage of .375, and he's gotten better as the season has progressed. After a weak May, he responded with a .391 OBP in June, a .400 OBP in July and a .522 mark in 23 plate appearances this month.
On-base percentage is the stat to look at here. The Sox need a guy that gets on base and hits at the top of the order, and having a guy like that has seldom been seen on the club over the last 15 years. Though Eaton's walk rate is just average this year (8.7 percent), his made up for it by getting base hits. He doesn't have power but he hits singles awfully well (86 total), and he is capable of drawing walks - he had no problems reaching base that way in the minors. The OBP figure is no accident.
Out in the field, Eaton provides value as well. His aforementioned dWAR of 1.5 is sixth among major league center fielders, and he's said that defense is his favorite part of the game. He's fast and gets good jumps on the ball. Baserunning is a work in progress, but even if he never improves his steal percentage, just getting on base in the first place is good enough.
In the national baseball scene, the Sox have gotten recognition for having Abreu and Sale, two of the league's best assets at team-friendly long-term deals. Though Eaton doesn't have a long contract in place, he is under team control for four more years. So while he's not in Sale's and Abreu's class, he is a very nice player for the Sox for the next few years. As for this year, Eaton's been just as valuable as an MVP candidate - at least judging by Baseball Reference's WAR numbers.